Issue: February 25, 2006
Keeping rabbits out
Is there any way to keep rabbits out of my garden? They have eaten the bark on my fruit trees and nibbled everything green. Do the repellants work? I don't want to kill them.
Rabbits are a common problem for rural gardeners and people near the edge of cities in New Mexico. As you described, they can do considerable damage to trees as well as grass, flowers, and vegetables.
Repellants may work to some degree; some people say they work well, others say they don't work at all. Perhaps they will work for you, but have a plan waiting in the wings if the repellants fail. If it rains (a pleasant thought), the repellant will be washed away and must be reapplied. In time, repellants evaporate or otherwise lose their effectiveness, so even without rain you must reapply the product periodically.
The experts tell me that fencing is more consistently effective than repellants. However, the fencing must be specially constructed to take into account the abilities of rabbits to defeat fencing. The fence must have a small mesh that the rabbits can't squeeze through. The fence should be fairly high, but the rabbits will more often dig under the fence than jump over it. To counter their digging strategy, wire mesh (chicken wire or fence mesh) should be attached horizontally to the base of the vertical fencing. This horizontal portion should be at or just below soil level extending outward from the fence (away from the garden). This horizontal portion of the fence is to prevent the rabbits from digging under the fence.
There is another type of fencing made to discourage rabbits. This "rabbit fence" consists of two rows of electrified wire. The wire is attached to insulated posts angled outward from the garden. The first wire is close to the ground, the second wire is somewhat higher and not directly above the first. The angled arrangement makes it possible for the rabbit to approach the fence until his ears contact the electrified wire. A larger rabbit will encounter the upper wire, smaller rabbits the lower wire. The electricity is sufficient to startle and discourage rabbits but not to harm them. Such electric fences are available as kits from some suppliers. They may be battery powered or powered by alternating current to which a fence charger is attached.
Some gardeners have found that their dogs may efficiently protect their garden. However, your garden's "guard dog" must be outside in the garden at night to be effective.
A combination of methods may be the most effective means of reducing rabbit damage to your garden and landscape.
Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.
Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!